3 Mental Shifts That Will Make You a Happier Mom
This article was originally published on May 11, 2017. It was updated on May 9, 2023.
The role of mother is the most challenging and rewarding in the world. There are lots of ups and downs. But even during those challenging parts of motherhood, you can still find happiness by identifying what you're able to control and focusing on that. A big part of that is changing your mindset.
Three mental shifts that can make you a happier mom right now
Mental Shift #1: Focus your energy
In this day of social media, moms can get so fractured and sidetracked by the hundreds of thousands of expectations on Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and Facebook. Step back from the device! Look at yourself and your kids and choose just a few family activities you can and want to do to. Then repeat these few things. Kids love traditions!
I remember reading a story about a busy mom who had a job outside of the home. Every Thursday evening she came home and baked her kids’ favorite chocolate caramel cake. Same cake every Thursday. And her kids looked forward to it every week.
Recently I read the New York Times bestseller Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. The author flies all over the world consulting with CEO’s to help them increase their effectiveness.
McKeown’s mantra goes something like this: Figure out what really makes a difference, what one thing you can do that will be your biggest contribution, and start saying NO to everything else. This discipline will help you make a mile of progress on one project instead of a millimeter of progress on 10 (or 100!) projects.
When my son was in a wheelchair with lots of medical issues, I couldn’t take my daughters to sports or other activities after school. But behind our house was a tree-filled (often wet) green space with lots of frogs! How my daughters loved exploring, playing and searching for the tiny frogs that chirped so loudly. That was so fun for them! They still treasure those memories. It was what I could do and it was enough. By focusing on a few things, I was able to keep my sanity and still give my kids fun experiences and memories.
Mental Shift #2: Accept that your child has freedom to choose
When I was a young mom, I was aware that my kids had their free will (it started by age two!). But I was determined to engineer my children’s lives so that they’d obey my free will!
I thought the goal was for me to teach (force) them to use their free will to choose perfectly. Ha! No kid ever will, or even should. So why cling to that expectation? Kids need lots of practice learning to use this freedom and feeling the consequences, both good and bad. That’s how most of us learn. This is often a difficult mental shift for moms to make for two reasons:
First, when children are very young, parents pretty much call the shots. It may be difficult to allow kids appropriate amounts of choice as they mature. It’s especially hard when their choices conflict with yours.
One rare hot summer day in Seattle, I decided to take my kids to a gorgeous “best kept secret” beach. My wheelchair-bound son had passed away and suddenly we had more freedom to be spontaneous (which was actually a little unnerving).
I started packing our beachy things up, but my 9 year old daughter (who back then had difficulty making transitions and dealing with new plans) freaked out and jumped back into bed with her head under the covers. No amount of cajoling could convince her that an afternoon at the beach would be fun, and I’m sure my exasperation (umm...anger?) didn’t help.
I wish I could go back and deal more patiently with my own disappointment and show more compassion for her anxiety issues. I wish I could accept more readily that she had her own free will and not wanting to go to the beach was a choice she could make.
The second reason accepting our kids’ free will is difficult is because we want our kids to reflect well on what great parents we are. It’s easy to become embarrassed by a child’s behavior and worried what people might think of us as a result. In essence, it’s easy to fall into the trap of objectifying our own children--treating them at times as trophies that should commemorate us as stellar parents.
I vividly recall a time my oldest child forgot to do her homework. Honestly, I think she was in the second grade. We had just moved to a new state and on one of those first school day mornings, she told me she had forgotten to do her homework. All I could think about was that her new teacher would judge my daughter and ME as complete slackers! I felt frustrated and embarrassed. Clearly, I was failing as a mother…and it was my daughter’s fault!
A better way to handle it would be to comfort my daughter and reassure her that we all forget to do things and that we’d figure out a better way to remember homework assignments going forward.
I propose that if you learn to see that your kids choices are not necessarily a reflection of you, you’ll be more relaxed and happier. You’ll see your kids as individuals that will make different choices than you would. And you’ll be able to separate your free will from theirs. You’ll realize that they are on their OWN journey and ultimately that journey has to be different from yours.
One mom who was parenting a teen with a porn addiction finally surrendered after years of making it her responsibility to “fix” her kid. Once she let go and gave back the responsibility to her son, she relaxed and started seeing the good in life and the good in him. She realized that when you make your happiness dependent on another person’s choices, your happiness is not under your control. (Kinda scary, right?)
But guess what? As she let go, she actually became her son’s ally and ultimately had a greater positive influence on his life.
I’m not saying to stop providing discipline for your kids. I’m proposing that accepting your child’s free will can help you relax and feel happy for your own good choices instead of taking on the responsibility (burden) for all of your child’s choices as well.
Mental Shift #3: Realize that you’re the perfect mother for your kids
Every mom feels at one point like they are a complete failure. (Let me know if you’re the exception!) I have often felt my kids deserved a better mom than me. And I could list a hundred reasons why. I lost my temper. I yelled. I wasn’t consistent enough in my discipline (which became a joke with my daughters who knew that any of my new "programs" to impose order in our home would last about two weeks). Ugh!
I admit, I carried this view of my imperfection as a mom in my heart for a long time.
But then I read A Perfectly Imperfect Mom by Michelle Wilson and I realized that although I wasn’t perfect, I was the perfect mom for my kids. You should read it too, because it’s not much longer than this blog post and it’s hilarious, authentic and worth everyone of the 299 pennies for the ebook. It's quick and you can thank me later. (Believe me, it will make Mother’s Day much more tolerable!)
So that’s it. 3 mental shifts to make you a happier mom
- Focus your energy. Your kids will be just fine if you don’t do everything you see on Pinterest. Your kids will be more fine if you're less stressed.
- Accept that your child has their own free will. Relax. Ultimately your happiness depends on your choices, not their choices.
- Realize that you’re the perfect mother for your kids. They’ve got you and no one else is signing on for the job. Despite your flaws, your love for them makes you perfect for them. (Get the book!)